Guest blog post by Martha (Marty) Dennen MA, LCPC, SEP
At some point in life, you will experience a loss. Unfortunately, no one is excluded from experiencing losses in life. One of these will likely be the loss of an important relationship. Experiencing this grief and loss of a relationship can be one of life’s most difficult roads to travel.
Relationship loss can be challenging to navigate because it is often fairly complex. There can be so many reasons for the loss of a relationship. Often, it can be difficult to grieve and let go of your relationship.
Don’t Just Move On
Society tends to minimize relationship loss. The unstated (and sometimes stated) expectation: just move on. This push to move on makes it challenging when you are experiencing the grief and loss of a relationship, especially if it was significant. Friends and family members drop hints bordering on pressure to start looking for the next relationship. This can come far sooner than you are ready.
But don’t give in! It is better to take time for yourself and resist the pressure to move on too quickly. Grieving a loss is actually what heals an emotional wound. So taking time to grieve the loss of the relationship is important. Grieving at your pace allows you to find your way to a sense of freedom and peace.
Avoiding experiencing the grief and loss of a relationship results in the emotional wound not healing properly. You might want to deny the loss, but this emotional suppression can lead to confusion. You may become emotionally stuck. Instead, make space for your grief. The time after the loss of a relationship is filled with conflicting feelings and emotions. Try to pause as emotions emerge.
Here are some other tips to “losing well.”
5 Keys to “Losing Well” When Grieving the Loss of a Relationship:
- Practice the pause. Losing a relationship comes with many emotions and feelings. Whether ending the relationship was jointly decided or pushed by one person, it is still a loss and is still painful. Pausing means making mental and emotional space. First, listen to your thoughts. Second, notice the accompanying emotions. Allow whatever comes up. Third, simply sit with it. Although this may feel uncomfortable for a moment, the emotion and thought will quickly pass if you just observe and do not engage it.
- Know emotions shift and change. The loss of anything, big or small, brings up emotions. Sadness, worry, guilt, anger, and even anxiety are all common. And all are normal in grief, even if the loss was expected. Let the feelings come without judging yourself for having them. The emotions are valid because they are yours. Know that most emotions pass on their own and in their own time. The more you allow the feelings, the faster you’ll get through the grief.
- Postpone life-changing decisions. It is important to make space for grieving and allowing yourself to experience these emotions. However, don’t allow it to derail your day. Do your best to keep up your normal routine and schedule. Due to shifting emotions, this is not a time to make extreme or life-changing decisions. For example, moving across the country. Make an agreement with yourself to postpone major decisions for at least a year if at all possible.
- Let go of judgments and look for lessons. When you grieve the loss of a relationship, let go of self-criticism and negative self-judgments. It is very hard to lose a relationship. The healing process will involve several stages. Some stages frequently repeat. As you heal, try not to overly criticize yourself or your previous partner. Instead, focus on what you valued about that person. Also focus on the good things and lessons that came from being in the relationship.
- Begin to accept the new normal. As you begin to accept the changes that come with loss, life begins to feel more normal again. Your life begins to be filled with other things and other people. You find yourself thinking less and less about the person, the grief, and the loss of the relationship. However, moving towards acceptance takes time. But through acceptance, you begin to find joy in life again. You notice evidence of your healing and feel hopeful about life. Discovering a new normal may take a while. But as you adjust, you notice renewed interest in life and a desire to connect with others again.
These tips are not in any order, however using them will help your journey through this period of grief and loss. It will take time to reorganize your life around what is now different. This is the hardest about losing a relationship. You may have oriented your life around that relationship. And one day, it suddenly wasn’t anymore.
It’s Different When the Loss is Through Death
When the grief and loss of the relationship is because of a death, grief is particularly hard. This is because it’s not just one loss, but many. And you grieve each loss. The losses overlap and layer.
The primary loss is the death of the person. The grief of this loss feels profound. You lived your life in tandem. Now you live your life without that person. It feels like a part of you has died. And that is more accurate than not, because of the merger that you had with your loved one. The grief is deep.
The secondary losses draw the picture of your lives together:
- Loss of income
- Loss of identity
- Loss of dreams for the future
- Loss of faith
- Loss of confidence
- Loss of financial security
- Loss of a support system
The grief is deep and painful, because of all these losses. Even though the grief may be more intense, the coping strategies remain the same. Bereavement groups run by hospices can be a helpful coping strategy, too.
Know that the path to healing usually is longer when the loss of the relationship has been through death. Just knowing this, however, can normalize what you’re experiencing.
Final Thoughts about the Grief and Loss of a Relationship
Losing a person you had spent so much time with, and now not having them in your life is hard. You are no longer together. You are no longer “an item.” Thinking about the loss can consume your thoughts and bring up many emotions and much pain.
Remember it takes time to adjust to this change. After you’ve split with your partner, it can be very challenging to see that person from a distance in the early days. At these times it helps to pause and gently shift your focus. Stay in the present moment. Recognize that things are different now, even though you may very much wish you could go back to before the relationship was lost.
And yes it sucks. But that doesn’t mean it will always be this way. Your life gets better with enough space and time. Staying caught in the emotion and the thought of how different it is now and how much you want to go back in time is not going to help you. Focus on the present and how you choose to live this moment. Moment by moment. Day by day. With time you will be able to move on.
There are moments when it can feel so overwhelming and so very stressful. It can be really hard to be motivated to go to work or other routines like school. So give yourself lots of grace and understanding as you grieve losing the relationship.
Many of my clients find it helpful to journal on their feelings and thoughts about the relationship. It’s also a good way to release any held grudges and personal hurts about the relationship. Journaling allows for processing and closure. You can express your feelings as you reflect on the relationship and what happened.
Most of all remember that you will get through this, even though it hurts so much right now. You won’t always feel this way. You will again become open to new possibilities and even new relationships.
This can be a difficult time. However, talking through your thoughts and feelings can help you gain a new perspective and a renewed hope for the future. If you are struggling to overcome the grief and loss of a relationship, talk to one of our qualified therapists today. If you’re in the Chicago area, we have offices in west suburban Glen Ellyn and in Chicago’s Jefferson Park neighborhood. Contact us today!
Martha (Marty) Dennen MA, LCPC, SEP
Marty has been a professional counselor for over 25 years. She has worked in a variety setting from intensive residential treatment, partial hospital programming and in private practice. She practices from a body-centered, somatic framework and specializes in eating disorders, childhood trauma, dissociative disorders, and mood disorders.